Powering Patient Relationships—How We Can Help People Prepare for the Future and Still Hope for the Best

Adam Husney, MD, Chief Executive Officer

Each winter, Healthwise participates in the HIMSS Global Conference and Exhibition. And each time I’m reminded of why we do it. HIMSS is an environment where attendees exchange ideas, learn new things, innovate, and collaborate to improve healthcare for people through technology.


It’s always about people

Sometimes, putting a face on this is easy. I was talking to Ben the other day. He’s helping his 80-year-old dad through a complicated and life-threatening medical condition. Ben and his dad both have Ivy League educations, and they are struggling to make sense of this situation. They’re confused by the complexity of the medicine and by the difficulty of the decisions they’re facing. I wondered, “If these two highly-educated people find it so hard, what does that mean for those who don’t have a strong support system or high levels of literacy?” The thing about illness is that it doesn’t discriminate. Educated or not, rich or poor, eventually almost all of us will face the difficult emotions and decisions that come with a serious and progressive illness in ourselves or a loved one.

If it’s inevitable, what can we do to prepare? How do we understand, make plans, and hold on to hope for whatever the future brings? There is always hope. The philosopher Alexander Pope said it well: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” It may be hope for comfort and relief from suffering, or it may be hope that comes from a life well lived and for the success of the next generation.

3 ways we can help people prepare and hope for the future

  • Share knowledge through patient education.
    We can give patients health information to help them understand the layers of complexities, and by concentrating on the most important information while filtering out what’s unnecessary and confusing. We can deliver that information in many formats—written, visual, and audio—so that we’re sensitive to the different ways people understand and learn.
  • Understand patients’ cultural and individual preferences.
    It isn’t just providing information about the medicine or treatment that is important. Communication is also important in building relationships with patients so that we can learn what motivates them, and how we can best provide comfort and empathy. When the time comes for the most critical and personal decisions—those at the end of life—sharing information with our patients can help all of us. Our families develop not only an understanding of our choices, but also, perhaps more importantly, our hopes for what’s coming.
  • Making decisions with, not for, patients.
    Developing strong relationships with our patients makes it easier for us to support them when they face difficult decisions. Maybe it is the decision about whether to get a defibrillator for severe heart failure or the decision about which cancer treatment to choose. Shared decision making should include discussions about the best medicine and provide the less-tangible help people need to understand their values and what is most important to them.

What does this mean for Ben and his dad?

For Ben, having access to great health information provided by a trusted physician made all the difference in how he supported his dad through these challenges. Sharing information and learning about his dad’s conditions helped him create order from the confusion. Ben and his dad have moved toward a deeper understanding of the current medical condition. Now they are relieved from some anxieties and have hope for the future.

Creating strong relationships between patients and doctors and supplementing that relationship with health education is all part of putting people and their needs first. Regardless of someone’s level of literacy, high—quality patient education that is medically reviewed and written in plain language can be the most helpful tool you have for creating and maintaining doctor-patient relationships. Strong relationships make clinical teams more effective in providing better care. But it’s not just patients who benefit—these relationships make clinical teams stronger, too. And that brings with it the potential to make good teams great, and great teams greater.

I’m looking forward to seeing inspiring presentations, learning about new innovations, and connecting with like-minded thought leaders at HIMSS this year. Visit us in booth 4449 and find out how we can work together to power patient relationships.